Where to begin? The good, the bad, or merely the ugly, this month had a wide variety of quality. The studios offered up comedies of the serious and ludicrous variety, animated features with underground rodents and dancing birds of the South, Oscar hopefuls, sequels, horror, arthouse, and others. A little bit for everyone, and a lot for nobody. When they were good, they were really good, when they were bad, they were really bad, and I am still undecided on at least one of them.
November got under way with a weekend dedicated to the young of the nation. Following the final frame of October, which featured the bloodshed of Saw III leading into Halloween, there had to be a release. That release came in the form of the third entry in Tim Allen's Santa Clause franchise, this one bearing the subtitle of The Escape Clause, and in Aardman Studios' Flushed Away. Neither one really set the world afire, although Martin Short does bring a lot of life to Santa Clause.
The next week saw a broader selection of films. Among those films was the surprise hit Borat, whose lawsuits keep accumulating and may be the most sued film of the year. Joining it was a more straight Will Ferrell than has been seen before in the surprisingly sweet and subtle Stranger Than Fiction. Ridley Scott made his way back to the big screen with the sputtering Russell Crowe film A Good Year. But wait, there's more – there were plenty of offerings for all tastes. Brad Pitt reappeared on the big screen with the world-spanning drama Babel, while Sarah Michelle Gellar sputtered with The Return.
Now it is time for the best cinematic weekend November had to offer, with two of the months best movies making their debut. First up is the first animated feature from Mad Max director George Miller, the dancing penguin phenomenon Happy Feet. That is followed with the resurgence of the Bond franchise in Casino Royale, featuring the auspicious debut of Daniel Craig in the role. Lastly, Dax Shepard and Will Arnett team up in the mediocre comedy Let's Go to Prison.
The final weekend brought four films for four different audiences. There is Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain for the indie folks, Deck the Halls for the family crowd, Pick of Destiny for the rocker crowd, and Deja Vu for those looking for a little bit of action.
Overall, this month was decent, perhaps not quite as strong as October was, but it still offered up 4 three-and-a-half star films. Better than many months have to offer.
Best of the Month: Casino Royale
Worst of the Month: The Return
Chronological listing of what I saw in November:
- Flushed Away. This was mediocre. It had flash and it had style, it had a healthy dose of animatedf action, but the characters and story felt weak. **.5
- Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. If it wasn't for Martin Short, this would be worthless. It has its heart in the right place, but it has a hollow center. Still, it was better than the second one. **
- The Return. What an absolute snooze fest. This was marketed like another Grudge film, but came off as something else entirely. It was a concept that fell flat with performances that could put Robin Williams to sleep. *
- Babel. The latest from Alejandro González Iñárritu is an interesting experiment, masterfully weaving together four stories that span the globe. The film tells an intersting story with characters that are well formed, but it feels slightly disconnected. It is not quite as strong as his last film, 21 Grams. ***.5
- Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Very, very funny! And maybe slightly unsettling. This is a movie that really has to be seen to be believed. ***.5
- Stranger Than Fiction. Will Ferrell tones down his act, and actually keeps his clothes on for this one. It is the most mature work from the perennial child. It is a story that weaves a sweet spell and is much better than the commercials led me to believe. ***
- Let's Go to Prison. I liked this, and I realize that I am most likely in the minority. Sure it sort of sputters, but Shepard and Arnett make a workable comedy pair. **.5
- Happy Feet. Guranteed to put a smile on your face and a jump in your step. George Miller has crafted a fine piece of family cinema, or a horrid piece of liberal propaganda. Sure, there is a little bit of an eco-horror story, but it doesn't drown the film. It is a real delight. ***.5
- Casino Royale. Bond is back! Daniel Craig's first outing in the role is a resounding success, silencing naysayers, and delivering a hard edged Bond who is at the dawn of his abilities. This is a fantastic outing, one of the smartest action films of the year. ***.5
- The Fountain. Darren Aronofsky puts it all on the line in his first shot at a high profile release. It is a film that will draw a line in the sand, splitting cinephiles. I love how he pushed the envelope to make a daring film. Not sure just how much I like it, but I do. ***
- Deck the Halls. Heartless, soulless, and just a pinch better than Christmas with the Kranks. This is long on concept and short on reality. I hate to say it but I would suggest you go see Santa Clausee 3 before this. *.5
- Deja Vu. Surprisingly good. Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott make a good combo. Throw in Denzel Washington and you have a winner. This action/thriller has a fun dose of time travel, and actually deals with it nicely. This is one to see, if only for the inventive car chase. ***.5
- Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny. Fitfully funny, but packed with charisma and great songs. Jack Black and Kyle Gass bring their acoustic metal to the big screen in fun fashion. Slightly reminiscent of prior rock duos Bill & Ted and Wayne & Garth, JB and KG work their mojo in a fun movie. ***
- Harsh Times. Interesting. Christian Bale as an Iraq veteran trying to get into law enforcement, spending a day showing just how much of a psychopath he is. ***
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